Monday, August 3, 2015
By David Skolnick
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a former U.S. trade representative, refuses to review a draft of what would be the country’s largest trade agreement in history if approved.
That, he says, is because of the secrecy of the proposal.
“It was behind closed doors, and I refused to see it,” said Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area who served as former President George W. Bush’s U.S. trade representative from May 2005 to May 2006.
The secret document is a draft of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
The document is classified as are most trade proposals because leaders of countries in these deals don’t want details revealed before approval.
If approved by Congress, TPP would be the nation’s largest trade agreement and include 11 other countries. A vote on TPP is expected no earlier than December.
Though he hasn’t read the TPP proposal, Portman voted June 24 with the majority in a 60-38 vote to approve fast-track authority. Fast track is a key step in the trade process. It allows the president to give such deals to Congress for only yes-or-no votes without the power for the legislative body to amend them.
Portman said he told his colleagues in the Republican-controlled Senate that to forbid the public to see the plan is “wrong.”
But Democrats say they’re not buying what Portman says.
“The idea that his failure to even read the draft before voting to move the Pacific trade deal forward is some sort of profile in courage is a joke,” said Jennifer Donohue, an Ohio Democratic Party spokeswoman.
Donohue said Portman took nearly $120,000 in campaign contributions from corporate backers of TPP, and “then he handed his responsibility as a U.S. senator over to them by giving up the chance to make amendments to the trade deal [by approving fast track] without even bothering to read the draft.”
Christyn Lansing, a Portman spokeswoman, said fast-track and TPP are "totally separate." TPP "is a specific deal that has yet to be negotiated. Rob will review it when it's complete to ensure that it is a good deal for Ohio workers."
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, voted against fast track and is critical of TPP saying it’s bad for American workers.
He looked at the draft proposal in March, and with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, sent a letter a month later demanding President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat, release the details of TPP before the fast-track vote. Obama declined.
In the letter, Brown and Warren wrote that Obama’s administration made it “illegal for the press, experts, advocates or the general public to review the text of this agreement.” Members of Congress can read the text, but are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public.